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NFL Draft Aftermath: Jeff Fisher, “Reaches,” and Free Agency additions

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NFL Draft Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

It’s been one week since the 2019 NFL Draft got underway. Seven days since I stayed up until 6 am live streaming the first round with Kenneth Arthur. Nearly 168 hours since the Arizona Cardinals went and took Kyler Murray at #1, tanking the value of 2018 first round pick Josh Rosen. Thankfully, upon much reflection, the Seattle Seahawks did well.

Judging a franchise’s draft in such a short space of time is a foolish exercise. Indeed, most picks deserve at least three years before they can be rated as a success or failure, a gem or a bust. No franchise is particularly good at drafting. Particularly from a consistency standpoint. The “Sashi [Brown] did nothing wrong” Twitter movement therefore has a point in that they emphasize the importance of having as many bites at the proverbial cherry.

Maximizing the chances of winning the lottery by gaining as many picks as possible, particularly in the top 100 selections, appears to be the “key.” John Schneider achieved this in his 10th draft a Seahawks General Manager. As much as Darnell Savage was a player that I highly coveted, it’s ignorant to overlook or understate what Schneider did with the #21 selection.

After trading Frank Clark, Seattle went from having just 4 picks in total to owning 4 picks in the magical top 100 and drafting 11 (ELEVEN) players in total! Even more supreme was this:

The players the Seahawks took felt a bit like reaches (though if D.K. Metcalf is swapped with L.J. Collier it seems to fit more of the mock draft consensus). Yet bandying about the term “reach” is problematic, given the media and fans are not privy to one of the biggest parts of the draft evaluation: interviews. A 2019 draft example is Florida safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who seemed to fall for no other reason than rumors of bad interviews. Gardner-Johnson was eventually taken by the New Orleans Saints in the 4th round.

Certain personality types are far more likely to have success, something the book Astroball by Ben Reiter delves into along with optimizing human potential. Schneider repeatedly spoke about guys with the mentality of “taking jobs” and Seattle clearly sought that mindset in all their picks. We, on the outside, have no real idea about which draft prospects fitted this profile and which did not.

Even with interviews accounted for, the Seahawks probably did “zig” when others “zagged.” But isn’t that when Seattle is at their best? A swing-for-the-fences draft feels far more palatable than a “safe” one. It feels like the Seahawks were able to take 11 of “their guys.”

“You’ll see a constant theme through here, that’s smart, tough, reliable guys,” Schneider enthused following the draft. “Physicality, special teams help, just adding a ton of competition and some alpha dogs to this group.” Seattle got faster, which was a key area of need heading into the draft. “Those guys who fly around and knock the crap out of people,” surmised Schneider.

If a team takes “their guys” it’s far better than missing out on them because the value doesn’t feel right. Just look at former Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher’s comments on the Pardon My Take podcast:

“It was our first or second year in St Louis, and I had gone to, my younger son was playing at Auburn, so I went down…and watched Auburn against Utah State”, Fisher revealed. “And this linebacker was just wrecking the Auburn offense. And so, fast forward, we get in the next offseason. I’m kinda going back to look at some tape and find out. And the linebacker’s name was Bobby Wagner.”

Fisher then illustrated the importance of not getting into the “reach” mindset:

“I’m doing the research and we got like a fourth-round grade on the guy. And, you know, you can’t look at everybody but I just felt the guy [Wagner] was late and late and you know, this guy’s gonna be really good. Maybe we’ve got him graded too low.”

Come draft day, fortunately for the Seahawks, the Rams took Janoris Jenkins in the second round and the Philadelphia Eagles went with Mychal Kendricks. Fisher told PMT:

“We’re looking at him [Wagner] but we thought ‘ah no’, we were told or convinced that ‘oh no, he’ll be there next time around.’ You’re reaching for him. Not; ‘we gotta take this guy now or he’s gonna be gone.’ And, sure enough, we pass on him.”

Not even the sickeningly dominant New England Patriots dynasty has been that successful with the draft. The draft is a glamorous, hyper-covered part of team-building that draws millions of viewers and attention. Yet it’s just one part of the team building process, something the Patriots have repeatedly proved.

Exasperation at Seattle drafting just one pass rusher, 5-technique L.J. Collier, and not picking a single LEO type pass rusher (250lbs-ish, speedy, flexible) is understandable. The Seahawks clearly didn’t like the options at LEO after the first tier went off the board though. They had the chances to take people like Maxx Crosby or Chase Winovich but passed them up. Just look at how miserable Pete Carroll and Schneider were post-first round.

Free Agency presents new opportunities. “We talk about those phases of free agency,” said Schneider post-draft, hinting at adding more quarterback hunters. “There’s basically like three or four different phases, and we’re basically now heading into phase three.”

5-tech (275lb-ish, versatile, inside-out) Ezekiel Ansah is available. LEO Nick Perry is still unsigned. 3-tech (defensive tackle aligned on outside shoulder of guard) Ndomukung Suh could also be added.

Trades also offer the chance to add pass rushing talent. Jerry Hughes of the Buffalo Bills has been touted as a possible LEO fit. Bills expert Erik J. Turner, founder of website Cover 1, told me “I don’t see the Bills trading Hughes.” He added: “Hughes has been their only steady pass rusher. A guy who can affect the QB on passing downs. He’s consistently atop the league in QB pressures.”

A likelier trade would be for Gerald McCoy, a 3-technique defensive tackle who has long figured to be a cap casualty of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That said, Seattle has been cautious with keeping their 2020 comp picks and currently projects to have 11 2020 selections. It would be unexpected to see them move a pick for a player, even if it were a round 4 selection.

Hypotheticals aside, the Seahawks were able to add 11 new players who fit the theme of “smart, tough, reliable” in the most attention-grabbing area of roster construction. On initial inspection, this draft was a success. It’s now time for Carroll and his staff to coach these traits and alpha personalities into successful NFL players.